British soldiers on the front lines in Afghanistan have been armed with pocket-sized spy drones that can give operators bird's-eye views of the battlefield below.
The little flying machine, dubbed Black Hornet Nano, is just 10 centimetres long and weighs about 15 grams. It flies like a helicopter, allowing it to hover and dart back and forth.
A prototype mini drone
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A prototype mini drone
Mini drones have been in the pipeline for years, now the British military are using them on the front lines in Afghanistan to give a bird's-eye view of the battlefield. Here is a video of one from 2009.
"We used it to look for insurgent firing points and check out exposed areas of the ground before crossing, which is a real asset," said Sergeant Christopher Petherbridge of Britain's Brigade Reconnaissance Force.
The drone, which resembles a child's toy, is made by the Norwegian company Prox Dynamics. According to the company's website, the Hornet can fly indoors or outdoors. It can be flown manually or autonomously, using GPS coordinates, and works in windy and harsh environments.
The Hornet is powered by a small rechargeable battery and reportedly has a working range of about 800 metres, a top speed of 35 km/h and can fly for up to 30 minutes at a time.
The company said it started developing the technology for the drone in April 2008; serial production was established in early 2012. The drone will be sold only to government institutions and organisations under Norwegian Arms Control, Prox Dynamics said.
Britain obtained the technology as part of a $31 million contract for 160 units, the Associated Press reported.
Prox Dynamics said the Hornet was the world's first operational nanotechnology drone system, but it is a tool militaries around the world would like to develop.
In the US, a company called AeroVironment has been developing a small battery-powered drone called the Nano Hummingbird for the way it flaps its tiny robotic wings.
It was built for the Pentagon's research arm, the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, as part of a series of experiments in nanotechnology.
With a wingspan of 16.5 centimetres, the Hummingbird weighs less than 30 grams. The Hummingbird's guts are made up of motors, communications systems and a video camera. It is slightly larger than a real hummingbird.
The development of both nanodrones demonstrates the promise of mini-spy aircraft. Industry insiders see the technology as eventually being capable of flying through open windows or sitting on power lines, capturing audio and video with targets none the wiser.
We used it to look for insurgent firing points and check out exposed areas of the ground before crossing, which is a real asset.Sergeant Christopher Petherbridge
Los Angeles Times